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Common Tread

Bird to offer electric scooter in some markets this summer

Jun 05, 2019

When Andy took a deeper look last year at the dockless electric scooter wave and wondered if it could be a way to edge people closer toward trying a motorcycle, the answer was a "maybe." But the latest move by scooter-sharing company Bird has at least some potential to create new motorcyclists.

In addition to its stand-up kick scooters, Bird will be offering this electric, sit-down, two-person scooter, called the Bird Cruiser, in selected cities this summer as part of its "last mile" transportation sharing services. Bird says the Cruiser has a 52-volt battery and comes in both pedal-assist and regular footpeg options.

Vehicle-sharing plans have proliferated in cities and taken on a variety of forms, not always with success. Just two blocks from my house is a line of electric bicycles that nobody ever seems to touch, and we've also seen backlash in some cities to the number of discarded Bird, Lime and other scooters littering the sidewalks. A few things make the Bird Cruiser a little different and potentially more influential on the motorcycle market.

For one, compared to other shared vehicles, it most resembles a traditional scooter, with its 20-inch wheels, hydraulic disc brakes and seating for two. Given those features, I see it having more potential to get a non-motorcyclist — perhaps the young person who grew up in an urban environment and was never exposed to motorcycling through friends or family — to think about a scooter or motorcycle as a city transportation option, instead of thinking primarily of an electric bicycle. As we have seen around the world, the surge in sales of electric bicycles is where the action is, while motorcycle sales waver within their usual range.

Of course, even if a non-motorcyclist tries the Bird Cruiser and starts contemplating owning a scooter of his or her own, there are still two impediments. One is licensing. Bird hasn't said yet where they will test the Cruiser, but I'm assuming it will be in jurisdictions where it is treated like a bicycle, so anyone can use one. Stepping up to a scooter or small motorcycle usually means getting a motorcycle endorsement on your driver's license — and record numbers of young people today don't even have a license to begin with.

Then there's the second impediment. Suppose someone loves the feeling of zipping around on a Bird Cruiser and decides ownership is a better deal. What would that consumer buy? It's a much bigger jump to go to a gas-powered scooter and deal with the additional maintenance, and the electric scooters currently available in the United States are from brands unknown to most consumers. Common Tread readers are probably tired of hearing me complain that the major motorcycle companies aren't making electric scooters, but I still believe my theoretical, non-motorcyclist, non-car-owning urban Bird Cruiser user would be more likely to take a step back and get an electric bicycle than give up the simplicity and ease of the electric drivetrain and buy a gas-powered scooter.

So to go back to Andy's question, I think that yes, the Bird Cruiser has more potential than the Bird kick scooters to bring new people into motorcycling. But unless some things change, I expect the numbers of those converts will be small.